Five hundred years from now, the necessity of population control and a preference for male children has resulted in a shortage of women. Down from the Appalachian Mountains, comes Tory White, an unusually tall and muscular young woman. Unable to read, she is deceived into signing a lifelong contract as a concubine. Entirely unsuitable for the position, she soon finds herself slotted for the ‘beds,’ where few girls live beyond a month. Yet, her honest and forthright manner charms the head of security into saving her and sets her upon a path in which she becomes the ‘heart’ of the world and the savior of man’s future.
“What has you looking so pensive this morning?” Link asked as he sat down beside her on the grassy hill overlooking the lake.
“Love.” She laughed at his look of concern. She explained the nonsense of the Summers/Hatchet/Smith affair. When she stopped talking, he still looked confused.
“People get married in the mountains?”
“Of course. How else would they keep the farms going? There’s man’s work, woman’s work, and children’s work. And you need all three parts to keep a farm running.”
“Why did you leave there?” he asked. His voice sounded strained as if he was upset that she’d left the mountains. He could probably hear in her words how much she missed her old way of life.
“Well, none of the boys wanted me for their wife. They were willing to take me on their farms, but not respectfully. So, when Leroy come around looking for a partner to sing duets in city clubs, Momma said I should go, for there weren’t nothing for me in the mountains but a future of shame and misery.”
“And you think this will be better?” he asked in surprise.
“No,” she laughed. “This ain’t at all what I thought I’d be doing. I was supposed to be singing for my living, but I ain’t done nothing here but get myself in trouble every time I turn around. I’ll be so happy when this week is out, and I can leave here!” She then paused. “Except, I’ll miss you terribly, Link. I ain’t never met a person ’cept for Gram that I like more.”
She had expected him to smile, for surely, he understood how big a compliment that was. But he didn’t smile. In fact, he looked most upset.
“What do you mean leave?”
“I mean pack my bags and go,” she said. “I’m sorry to sound so ungrateful, because you’ve been awfully nice to me. But beyond you, there isn’t one thing I like about this place. I will be very glad when our contract is up, and Leroy and I can leave. And just so you don’t think I’m some stupid-headed female, the moment Leroy hits the other side of that gate and I get my half of the money, I’m going on my own. Leroy only cares about himself and will sell me out any chance he gets. I see that now, and he’s not pulling this shit on me a second time.”
Link seemed more upset than ever. “Tory, only Leroy is leaving in a week. Your contract is for life.”
“For life? Whose life? Mine? That can’t be! Who would hire a musician for life?”
He shook his head as if trying to make sense of her. “They didn’t hire you as a musician, Tory. You signed on as a concubine.”
She’d never heard the word before. “Exactly what does a concubine do?”
He stared at her a moment and then he sighed. “It won’t work. We tape the contract signings to prove the girls are not under duress when they agree to become a concubine. I watched you read that contract word for word, myself. You cannot claim you did not know you were signing on as a concubine.”
She sighed. “Can I trust you with a secret?”
He nodded and reached out and took her hand.
“I can’t read. Girls aren’t taught in the mountains. But Leroy says it’s against the law not to teach girls, and if I told anyone I couldn’t read, they’d go up in the mountains and kill everybody for breaking the law. So, I did like he told me, and looked at each and every block of print for a moment before going on to the next block.”
“Which is why you smiled when you finished it,” he said, as if he finally understood something that had been bothering him.
“It wasn’t easy to stay focused on such a tedious task. I was so relieved when it was over, and I had managed to pull it off so we could work here.”
“As a musician?”
“Yeah, for a month.” She frowned. “I didn’t think he’d lie about the contract because he had to sign one as well. Did he know mine was different than his?”
“Without a doubt. He received three hundred dollars for bringing you here. He knew exactly what you’d be doing for the rest of your life.”
Tory’s frown deepened. “Will I be doing whatever the other girls do?”
“Yes.” He watched her expression.
“Is that like a waitress?”
She swallowed. “Will you just tell me what I have stupidly signed up for? Because my stomach is starting to go sour.”
Link told her about the three levels of girls. The most pleasing girls were “High Girls” and they entertained important men. Then there were the Common Girls and they entertained regular men. Last, there were the “Low Girls,” and they were sent to the “Beds,” where they were strapped down to a cot, and the worst of men did whatever they wished to them.
“It’s no life at all for a Low and a hard life for the Common girls. The only ones that have any chance of happiness are the High Girls.”
“And who makes the decision as to what level I’ll be?”
“Well, now I know why she smiles every time she looks at the calendar.” Tory sighed.
About the Author
Liza O’Connor lives in Denville, NJ with her dog Jess. They hike in fabulous woods every day, rain or shine, sleet or snow. Having an adventurous nature, she learned to fly small Cessnas in NJ, hang-glide in New Zealand, kayak in Pennsylvania, ski in New York, scuba dive with great white sharks in Australia, dig up dinosaur bones in Montana, sky dive in Indiana, and raft a class four river in Tasmania. She’s an avid gardener, amateur photographer, and dabbler in watercolors and graphic arts. Yet through her entire life, her first love has and always will be writing novels.
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